“…Since Christ is Lord of Heav’n and Earth, how can I keep from singing?” So asks the nineteenth-century American minister Robert Lowry in the second verse of his still-famous hymn.
No one could keep from singing Jesus’ praises on that very first Palm Sunday as our Lord rode into David’s city. He had wowed everyone with his acts of healing, his miraculous feedings, and his extravagant (and sometimes scandalous) love for all. He was the Savior King the prophets had promised.
Palm Sunday was great then, and it is great now. Who doesn’t love seeing our sweet children in their Sunday best, walking down the sanctuary’s aisle, waving palm branches and offering “the simplest and best” praises as the organist plays “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna?” Who doesn’t love that? It’s fantastic. How can we keep from singing?
Today is my husband’s birthday. Birthdays are big at our house: we hang streamers; we bake the birthday boy or girl’s favorite cake; we make birthday cards and homemade presents; we sing the birthday song ad nauseum. We can’t keep from singing.
Four years ago, though, we had trouble singing. Four years ago today, we suffered a miscarriage, less than a week after discovering we were expecting our second baby. The praises we had shouted as we learned of that pregnancy quickly turned to crying as we realized the horror that was happening inside my body. Easter seemed a long way away, and while we knew it was coming, we couldn’t yet wrap our broken hearts and minds around it.
We had to move on though—at least in practice. Being the clergy couple that we were and are, we had to continue planning for Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter. When Palm Sunday arrived, I wept my way through the processional. I was so very thankful that our daughter was joyfully singing God’s praises, and yet I was completely devastated that our unborn child would never have that chance. How could I keep singing?
Holy Week is a peculiar, and downright raw, few days. It is pure horror, bound on one side by naïve hosannas and on the other by unbridled hallelujahs. The parade-goers who cheered for the One who came in the name of the Lord had no idea that He would not be meeting their expectations in the ways they thought he would. The Palm Sunday crowd had no idea what the week would bring. They had no idea that their hopes would be destroyed on a criminal’s cross.
We, who are on this side of that first Holy Week, know the whole story though—and thank goodness. We know that Jesus was the fulfillment of every prophetic promise his people had heard. We know that Jesus was not what the people were expecting—he was more. Jesus Christ exceeded any expectations his people could’ve had because he did the unthinkable: he kept on riding.
On that first Palm Sunday, Jesus kept on riding into Jerusalem, knowing the horror that awaited him. He rode up into the temple and challenged the corruption he saw there. He rode into the festive Passover meal with his beloved friends, knowing it would be his last. He rode into an unfair trial and allowed himself to be condemned to death. He rode to the cross and endured its horrors, knowing that by His wounds, we all would be healed.
And then…and then…he rode out of his tomb, having conquered death as only this truly triumphant king could do.
On Palm Sunday and in the days that follow, we are reminded that our Lord has moved with us through our highest joys and our deepest, most unfathomable sorrows, because he moved through his own for our sake. Christ our Lord has vouchsafed that our moments of despair do not have the last word. Instead, the last word is and will be Hallelujah. Joy will come, because Christ has come.
How, then, can we keep from singing?
Anna Kate Shurley is a Baptist minister, a Presbyterian minister’s wife, the mother of Virginia and Oliver Shurley, a Girl Scout leader, a carpool magnate, a hopefully-soon-to-be-published author, and the Interim Director of Youth and Family Ministries at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Gulfport, Mississippi. She has lots of great reasons to sing.